Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

December 15, 2021
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

The latest:

The head of the European Union’s executive branch said Wednesday that omicron is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant in the 27-nation bloc by mid-January, amid concerns that a dramatic rise in infections will leave Europe shrouded in gloom during the holiday season.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU is well prepared to fight omicron with 66.6 per cent of the bloc’s population fully vaccinated. Von der Leyen expressed disappointment that the pandemic will again disrupt year-end celebrations but said she was confident the EU has the “strength” and “means” to overcome COVID-19.

“Like many of you, I’m sad that once again this Christmas will be overshadowed by the pandemic,” she said.

Continental Europe can look to Britain for a sense of what lies ahead as omicron spreads.

The head of the U.K. Health Security Agency, Dr. Jenny Harries, said omicron is displaying a staggering growth rate compared to previous variants.

“The difficulty is that the growth of this virus, it has a doubling time which is shortening, i.e. it’s doubling faster, growing faster,” Harries told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday. “In most regions in the U.K., it is now under two days. When it started, we were estimating about four or five.”

Harries said the variant poses “probably the most significant threat we’ve had since the start of the pandemic.”

Alarming rises in cases as winter approached and the delta variant remained at large prompted many European governments to implement public health measures as excess mortality increased during the fall.

With omicron now on the scene, more countries are adopting restrictions. Italy, for example, this week required negative tests from vaccinated visitors, raising concerns that similar moves elsewhere will limit the ability of EU citizens to travel to see friends and relatives over the holidays.

Portugal adopted a similar measure on Dec. 1, requiring a mandatory negative test for all passengers on arriving flights, regardless of their vaccination status, point of origin or nationality.

Von der Leyen said the EU faces a double challenge, with a massive increase of cases in recent weeks due to the delta variant combined with the rise of omicron.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of people falling ill, a greater burden on hospitals and unfortunately, an increase in the number of deaths,” she told European Parliament lawmakers.

Von der Leyen insisted that the increase in infections remains due “almost exclusively” to the delta variant.

“And what I’m concerned about is that we now [are] seeing the new variant omicron on the horizon, which is apparently even more infectious,” she said.

Scientists worldwide are working frantically to learn more about the variant, which as of Tuesday had been reported in 77 nations. The global picture is unclear, but according to an analysis Tuesday of initial data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections, omicron seems to be more easily spread from person to person and better at evading vaccines, but also milder.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, meanwhile, vowed to win the fight against the pandemic, imploring Germans in his first major address to parliament to get vaccinated as the only way out of the crisis.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Rapid COVID-19 test access varies by province

Rapid COVID-19 test access varies by province

Alberta and Quebec will soon make rapid COVID-19 tests available to the public, something several provinces and countries have done for months. But the tests remain costly in Ontario, despite calls to make them easier to access. 1:58

What’s happening around the world

A medical worker takes a nasal swab from a visitor as part of a test for COVID-19 in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Wednesday morning, more than 271.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea warned it may reinstate stricter physical distancing curbs as it posted a record daily tally due to a persistent spike in breakthrough infections among those vaccinated and serious cases.

In the Americas, the Biden administration may request additional funds from Congress for COVID-19 testing, depending on the severity of the omicron variant, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said.

The reported pandemic death toll in the U.S. surpassed 800,000 this week, as hospitals in several states feel the strain of surging COVID-19 case loads.

A staff member places electronic candles in front of the steps to the U.S. Capitol building before lawmakers participate in a moment of silence for the 800,000 American lives lost to COVID-19. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In Africa, health officials across the continent reported more than 167,000 new cases of COVID-19 last week, an increase of 111 per cent from the previous week, according to a weekly epidemiological summary published by the World Health Organization.

According to the report, the highest number of cases in Africa were reported in:

  • South Africa, with 109,053 new cases.
  • Zimbabwe, with 26,479 new cases.
  • Mauritius, with 6,415 new cases.

There were “just under 500 new deaths, a number similar to the number reported in the previous week,” according to the report, with the highest number of deaths in South Africa, Mauritius and Algeria.

In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday reported 148 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET

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